With last week’s announcement that New York was a Race to the Top Finalist, shocked charter management bosses were attempting to explain away weeks of argumentation that a failure to capitulate to their agenda would keep New York from achieving that goal. Spinning faster than the magic teacup ride at Disney World, Peter Murphy of the New York Charter School Association absurdly postulated that New York’s initial success will have a negative impact on education funding. This insight came from the same crystal ball which had Murphy prophesying that New York’s RttT proposal was too weak to become a finalist not two weeks ago. Joining Murphy on the magic teacup ride was Thomas Carroll, the proprietor of the Brighter Choice charter schools recently exposed for denying admissions to students with special needs; Carroll had been madly promoting his list of RttT finalists — sans New York — a few days before the announcement. Charter management’s hours organs — the puerile tabloid and Wall Street press — were called in. Fresh from its visit to Disney World, the Daily News decided that it would take a “magic spell” to win funding. And the usual coterie of anti-union bloggers were brought in for reinforcements. All in all, it’s a sight that would leave any teacher with her feet on the ground quite dizzy.
In the original charter management pitch, UFT and NYSUT stood in the way of New York becoming an RttT finalist simply because we insisted that the charter schools had to be real public schools, educating all students, for the charter cap could be raised. Now that this fairy tale has come up against the real world, charter management mouthpieces like NYCSA’s Murphy are attempting to claim that teacher unions will cause the downfall of New York’s RttT proposal at the next stage of the process. Part of this accusation rests on the suggestion that the entire application would rise or fall on the issue of raising the charter cap: in fact, on the U.S. Department of Education rubric for evaluating RttP applications, charter caps are only one of five points in the category “ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools,” and the category as a whole is assigned only 40 out of a total 500 points. Given the relatively small number of points available, one could only reach the conclusion that the charter cap issue was decisive if you assumed that RttT was a politicized process in which the rubric was nothing more than window dressing. One would have to believe that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was lying when he said that “there are many, many factors we are looking at. Charters were never going to be the determining factor. We said that from day one.”
Just as importantly, the second point in the innovative schools category demands that charter schools “serve student populations that are similar to local district student populations, especially relative to high-need students.” The way to score higher in the category, then, would have been to adopt the legislation sponsored by State Senate leader John Sampson and State Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver and supported by the UFT, which combined an increase in the cap for charter schools with measures that would have had charter schools educate their fair share of high-need students. It was the opponents of this legislation — the New York Charter School Association, the New York City Charter School Center, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, among others — that bear responsibility for what few points New York may have lost on this count.
New York has more of the higher achieving charter schools in the U.S. because of the balance of oversight, accountability and effective regulation struck in our state; no doubt, those factors contributed to NY’s score in this column. The calls by charter management to remove all regulation could only diminish the quality of New York charter schools.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely the view from inside the charter management crystal ball will get much better very soon, if we judge by their reaction to the news that New York was a RttT finalist. Neither evidence nor common sense play much of a role in their complaints about the results, or their disappointment that the RttT application was not the invitation to union bust they so desperately wanted.
There is, of course, another route. Charter management could work with the UFT, NYSUT and elected officials to push for responsible legislation. A charter school law that combines an increase in the cap with regulations that require charter schools to educate all students, especially high need students, seems to be exactly what the Obama administration is looking for. The Post may see equity, oversight and accountability as “poison pills,” but the RttT guidelines clearly include those three elements with the raising of the cap.